Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Misleading America Evidently Pays Better than Helping America’s Women

By Bob Ferris

You know truth is a slippery thing and numbers—particularly large numbers—are even slipperier.  In watching the parts of the House hearing on Planned Parenthood that I could stomach it is interesting to note some of the numbers that were thrown out and from where.  It is also pertinent to know who is behind those numbers and why it is so necessary to use deception to remove a woman's right to choice.

The most startling numbers are the ones presented graphically above.  Wow it looks like Planned Parenthood is all about abortion and becoming even more so.  The problem is that there is no Y-axis. Most people looking at this graphic would incorrectly assume that Planned Parenthood was performing just as many abortions in 2010 as they were cancer screenings and prevention services.  If there was a Y-axis then 935,573 would not appear below 327,000.

Now granted Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah only has a degree in Communications (just like Sarah Palin), but I would assume that anyone regardless of their degree would know that a graph such as this needs a Y-axis otherwise it is misleading.  Moreover, when dealing with something as important as women’s health—if you are sincerely concerned—you would think you would want to check the sources for your information which in this instance is an anti-abortion group called Americans United for Life with a vested interest in sinking Planned Parenthood.  And that organization is led by Charmaine Yoest a person with a PhD in Political Science from University of Virginia who certainly should know her way around a Y-axis.

Now perhaps I am giving Rep. Chaffetz too much credit.  He was after all he was Jewish and then became a Mormon as well as being a Democrat until he figured out he was actually a conservative Republican.  And he also famously confused his congressional office with a hotel room.

One of the other numbers being thrown out there is Planned Parenthood CEOs Ms. Richards’ salary which in 2013 was a $482,157 according to the organization’s IRS 990 forms.  The question being not is that a lot of money, but rather is that reasonable compensation for someone running an organization of this size ($169 Million in 2013) or complexity.  To answer this question why don’t we look at Americans United for Life and we see that they paid their CEO $205,613 to run a far smaller ($4.5 million) and much less complex organization.  Certainly, Ms. Richards makes 2.3 times what AUL’s CEO makes but Planned Parenthood is 37 times as large and much, much more complex.  Seems to me that making misleading graphs pays better percentage-wise than helping women to be healthier and exercising their right to choice.  This seems as wrong as these charts.  (For point of reference, I ran $4.5 million non-profit in a high salary setting and received about half of what Dr. Charmaine Yoest receives)

A few last things before I close and we leave this discussion.  The first is that Americans United for Life is miss-named.  The organization should really be named A Few Conservative Rich People Against Abortion as much of its funding comes from a relatively few rich individuals and a lot is funneled through a variety of the usual suspects such as Center to Protect Patients Rights and even the American Future Fund (see note) that—wait for it—is linked to the Koch brothers’ evil octopus of democratically destructive funding (see below).  In this latter context it is not hard to draw the connections between the neon-lit dots of a Koch-launched Tea Party Congressman and a Koch-backed non-profit’s graphs.  The brothers and their allies seem bent on establishing a vertically integrated political monopoly of monstrous proportions and evil intent.

My last point is a question: If a particular view point is so rock-solid and righteous why-oh-why (Y-axis) does it need doctored videos, deceptive graphs, networks of shady funding (see above), obvious prevarication and outright bullying (see Chaffetz video above) to prevail?  But of course that very same question can be asked also about climate change, tax cuts for the rich, marriage equality and the war in Iraq.  We need to do better at protecting our democracy.

(Note: I am aware of the criticism of this Wikipedia piece, but given what the Koch brothers and their allies have attempted on Wikipedia to scrub their image these criticisms should be taken with a little salt.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Practice and Punishment

By Bob Ferris

"The Bible says beware of false prophets. And there are people out there, you know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean this whole notion that we're going to shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013 -- this plan never had a chance" Outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner on CBS Face the Nation September 27, 2015 
My head is spinning as I look at the recent news and certain combinations of events.  It makes me want to call down thunder and lightning, but I will not and there is a very good reason.  Here are some bolt worthy examples:

The original Boston Tea Party was in protest of corporate influence on governance not in support of corporate influence on governance

  • The Speaker of the House resigns due to conservative corporate pressure poorly masked as a grassroots’ rebellion driven by the so-called Tea Party which is antithetical to the mission and philosophies of the historic protesters from Boston for which it is named and further enabled by a lawsuit launched by a group known as Citizen’s United that argues for the right of corporations to be citizens.

Adulterous behavior in Colonial times was frequently punished with public whippings and occasionally by death.

  • County Clerk Kim Davis a bigoted, thrice-married, adulterer with illegitimate children who continues to break the law in Kentucky is given an award by the Family Research Council a group that champions family values. 

Those unable to pay their debts in Colonial America were placed in Debtor's Prisons.  This was discontinued on the federal level in 1833.

In the Massachusetts Colony bearing false witness was considered a capital offense.

Attendance at religious services in Colonial America was mandatory as were contributions.  Failure to comply was met with fines and often corporal punishment.

Social transgressions in Colonial America were often met with tar and feathers or worse.

    Hanging was a common solution in Colonial America and a fairly straight-forward affair when you were responsible for someone's death.
  • And the Koch brothers remain alive and free still making an embarrassment of riches even though their products and industrial processes externalize environmental costs, shorten people’s lives (1,2) and have directly killed US citizens.

Interestingly all the above conditions are presently allowed by a remarkable and visionary document known as the US Constitution that permits these activities yet protects the practitioners who transgress from the punishments that are often proscribed by the very belief systems they are free to practice because of this document.  Moreover, the Constitution was designed to evolve as a living document and eventually shielded citizens from other past abuses and barriers to equal opportunities such as debtor’s prison, slavery, and women not having the vote even though they could run for federal offices.  

To argue that the Constitution is based on Biblical law or that it is enabling Sharia law is a falsehood and turns logic completely on its head.  Ironically, many of those making these arguments or advocating for the supremacy of God’s law should thank their lucky stars that the Constitution exists to protect them from being beaten, burned, crushed, or jailed as their religions or past policies in colonies would demand for their actions.  In fact as we look at some of the iconic folks offered up in this current set of debates to return us to core values and freer times such as Kim Davis, Donald Trump and the Kochs these folks would have in pre-Constitutional times been respectively whipped in the town square or killed, explaining the subtle difference between personal and business bankruptcy from behind bars in a rat infested cell, or hung because they caused an illegal death.

Much of the above goes far beyond the debate between Republican and Democratic policies and travels deeply into the absurd.  In this it is disappointing that elements of the electorate seem so easily mislead into to following or voting for candidates who are saying—almost preaching—one thing while clearly acting against the best interests of their constituents in regards to critical issues such as economic equity, health care, aging infrastructure, education costs, and climate change.  In this many seem to confuse the religious zealotry of the Founding Colonists like Cotton Mather with the religious tolerance of the Founding Fathers such as George Washington.  It is a shame we have to fight this fundamental fight all over again, but of course we must.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

All Candidates and Elected Officials Should Come Out Slugging but Always, Always Defend the Truth

By Bob Ferris

I think a lot of the nation is watching the below clip where a man in the audience of one of Donald Trump’s rallies said some ugly things about Muslims and in the same hate-filled diatribe said that the President was a Muslim.  Donald Trump did nothing to correct the gentleman and got called on it. He had two basic responses.

The first was that he was not morally obligated to correct this gentleman’s misinformation .  And the second response was that he doubted that President Obama would do it for him if someone said something untrue and nasty about him.  On both points I think that he is dead wrong, but let’s return to his first defense.

Moral people defend the truth—often at great costs.  That is what makes them moral.  Mr. Trump tries to make this about saying bad things about people, but it is not about meanness or hatred it is about truth.  When you hear an obvious lie, you stop and correct it.  That is what true leaders do.

When John Kerry was attacked by the infamous Swift Boaters, John McCain stood up and condemned this action as he did when someone said Obama was an Arab (see above video).  He was not defending John Kerry or Obama per se but rather the truth as he saw it.  He didn’t have to do it, but he did.  Likewise when Barney Frank was confronted at Town Hall meeting by a woman comparing Obama to Hitler he did not let it slide, but rather corrected the woman (see below).

The Senator and Congressman took these actions to defend the truth as they should and we should expect.  For if the candidates follow what we just saw on television during the debates (1,2,3) or if Congress continues to take actions and express outrage over gross misrepresentations (1,2,3) or faked tapes (1,2,3) what will we think of them or the world of us?

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Evil of Planned Prevarication

By Bob Ferris

I think like many Americans who are aware of the issues I am both appalled and disgusted by the statements made by Carly Fiorina about Planned Parenthood in the recent debates.  My sentiments completely echo the thoughts expressed by Michael Hiltzik in his excellent editorial in the Los Angeles Times.  Moreover, I think that it is even worse when looked at in the context of the entire conspiracy to deceptively demonize (1,2,3) a non-profit that has done so much for women and women’s health over the years.

To just condemn the false statements of Ms. Fiorina (see below)—while necessary and deserved—seems a weak response to what is really a noxious cherry on the top of a manure pie constructed by conservative forces bent of subjugating women and restricting their Constitutionally-granted and court-tested freedom of choice.  That this is done with altered videos (1,2,3) and easily-discounted false statements like Utah Senator Orin Hatch saying 94% of Planned Parenthood pregnancy services are abortions is both ridiculous and reprehensible.

Now one can cruise the internet and find both defenders and detractors of Ms. Fiorina on these statements about the scenes.  And a close examination of those comments will indicate that they are split mainly along political lines with the progressives denouncing this as a lie and conservatives cheering “Go Carly.”  This could easily degrade into a see-saw, he-said-she-said like argument until we return to the fact that the pivot point of this debate are heavily manipulated, fraudulently-obtained and illegal videos provided by the Center for Medical Progress which has been characterized in The New England Journal of Medicine as an organization that “twist(s) the facts” and is engaged in “campaign of misinformation.”

Now I could go on and on about this and the danger of moral high grounds being built on lies, but this really comes back to money and people.  The Congressional Budget Office has said that there might be some cost savings associated with this budget action, but those cost savings are tied to some pretty significant and speculative “ifs.”

But regardless of the money, which honestly seems to be a wash, for me the "people" issue is the biggest one.  Ms. Fiorina and the horde she wants to lead seem willing to use lies and misinformation to garner political gains, but they really need to remember that the roughly 2.5 million women who avail themselves of Planned Parenthood’s services could also be your mother, grandmother, sister, niece, wife, lover or friend and that makes this critically important to you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Of Privilege, Short Memories and Ahmeds Clock

By Bob Ferris
But Honey I was smiling.
Carlene and I recently surrendered our enhanced driver’s licenses from Washington State to get our more properly appropriate Oregon licenses.  The person waiting on us was courteous, friendly and accommodating.  We felt privileged and that is most probably a problem.

While we were experiencing this let-me-help-you-through-the-process environment I could not help but think about the scene in the movie Selma (see above video) where Oprah Winfrey’s character is trying to register to vote in the pre-Voting Rights Act of 1965  South or same sex couples trying to get marriage licenses in Kim Davis’ office.  In my mind there is little or no difference between the actions of the Registrar character played so ably by Clay Chappell and those of Ms. Davis—they both let their own personal prejudices block others from enjoying their legal rights as citizens. They exercise a privilege they felt was afforded them because they were more white or more Christian than those they were exercising power over.

I have been writing a lot about the above and related political and philosophical issues lately (1,2,3,4,5) because it is clear that we all need to take a timeout and remember why this country was founded, the lessons we have learned in our nearly 400 year evolution from starving and struggling colonies to global super power, and the very real risks we run if we do not continue to learn from past mistakes both within our country and those happening in others.

In a very real sense America is an experiment—a cobbled together Frankenstein built from the best ideas that the best minds of the time could assemble.  And since that time this hopeful monster of a country has been on the “operating table” frequently as we learn what sustains us best and how we need to live.  The Civil War, for instance, was fought over slavery which was a cancerous growth that needed to be removed.  The robber barons nearly wrestled us down to the ground again in the early 1900s, but anti-trust legislation and bold leadership from Theodore Roosevelt acted much like a heart bypass operation to make us thrive again.

Since then we have weathered two world wars and dozens of wildfire conflicts that have tested us mightily and continue to test us, but we seem generally to work hard or at least stumble artfully to avoid the most dangerous pitfalls thrown in our direction.  We survived too the ugliness of the McCarthy era, but right now the “cancer” is back in the form of bigotry and religious intolerance as evidenced by the shootings in Charleston, Ms. Davis’ actions in Kentucky and the recent arrest of a student in Texas for making a clock while being a Muslim.  We once thought that we cured all this through education and legislation, but we are clearly not past this.

And the “bypass” we underwent in the early 1900s followed by a tune-up during the Great Depression has nearly been nullified by the fatty diet exemplified by Citizen’s United and the undemocratic influence of the country’s 1%.  We cannot pretend that we are following a healthy and balanced dietary regime when 492 families have more than 3000 times what the average American has in terms of net worth and 6 of the 10 richest people in America are members of two families.

Moreover, we cannot ignore that while wages of the average workers have stayed fairly flat or dropped, average CEO compensation of the largest companies—e.g., those given tax breaks and subsidies to create jobs and other so-called public goods—have increased their pay roughly 20-fold. We all like the idea of an American Dream that is available to everyone but when it is abused we need to make corrections.
“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
”  George Washington’s 1790 letter to a Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island
But let’s get back to privilege, because that in many ways is at the core of this—the privilege of race, creed, and money.  George Washington in his 1790 letter to the Synagogue in Rhode Island (quoted above) wrote elegantly about his vision of a society absent of privilege where all citizens share all rights equally.   America is not America in this Washingtonian view when lawful citizens are not allowed to vote; loving couples are not allowed to marry; a teacher can identify a bright student as a potential terrorist because he does not have an a “normal” name or enjoy the privileges afforded to Christians; or the very rich have special access to politicians or candidates because they can write a big check (1,2).  

Now there are those who might argue that I push Washington’s quote too far.  They will point to the fact that Washington owned slaves and women did not have the vote during Washington’s time. They might even mention that there were very few Muslims in the US at that point and that the idea of gay marriage was not even an issue.  To them my response is two-fold, first they really need to read history more closely because the issue of non-Christians and our relationship with non-Christians (1,2) has been around along, long time as has the idea of women voting and gay people wanting to maintain permanent relations—even probably including a past US president (1,2).

My second message is that this quote expressed Washington’s hopes and vision rather than his claims about existing conditions.  So if we truly want to support the Founding Fathers, we should all work to help this vision come true.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kim Davis and the Harper Valley PTA

By Bob Ferris

On my bike ride this AM to the library I was thinking about Kim Davis and in moment of bizarre free-association the twangy tones of Jeannie C. Riley’s immortal ballad “Harper Valley PTA” flashed into my mind.  Now to be clear in this instance, Ms. Davis is not the one played by Barbara Eden but rather the whole panel of the self-appointed, self-righteous folks judging the widowed mother.
“My words can never express the appreciation,” she said of the constituents who voted for her, “but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.” Kim Davis quoted in Washington Post article 
As a result of this whole gay bigotry kerfuffle the entire world now knows about Kim’s various marriages, her acknowledged affair, the illegitimate children and the restraining order she filed on someone she later married.  But I am more concerned—as it relates to this job—about her professional behavior.  She got this job because her mother hired her.  That may not be illegal but it is certainly unethical particularly when you understand that either she or her mother also hired Nathan Davis who is Kim’s son. Were Kim and Nathan hired through an open process and were they the most qualified applicants for that position?  That is a question that has been raised but not answered in any reasonable sense.

There is also the issue about Ms. Davis’ overtime when she was chief deputy clerk and directly supervised by her mother.  This situation required a public hearing and the Fiscal Court reduced the office’s salary funding by a third in 2012. .  Though Ms. Bailey—Ms. Davis’ mother—may have done nothing wrong, her behavior and that of Ms. Davis’ expose the clerk's office to issues of trust and doubt which in a very real sense is part of the clerk’s job as fiscal and administrative manager to avoid.  Of note also is that when Ms. Bailey was passing out marriage licenses to her daughter like popcorn that she should have known that it was probably improper to allow Ms. Davis to certify her own personal marriage license as she did for the license to marry Thomas Dale McIntyre Jr.

Now I will stand up for the principle that folks should be able to practice their religion even when that is practicing no religion at all.  That said, those religions should not in this context be directed like weapons at others in this country regardless of their color, country of origin, creed or sexual orientation.  I also think that religious sects of all stripes should practice a little self-awareness.  If, for instance, you are one of these Christian sects like the Apostolic folks that magically erase past sins via baptism and rebirth you have to understand that you are in many people’s mind a lot like a remedial reading class telling others that you are suddenly English scholars (think too of Bristol Palin as a voice for abstinence).   Similarly I cannot think that people seeking to make themselves right with some higher power for past transgressions should think that process involves searching the landscape for the sharpest stones to toss at those going through a similar journey.

My sense is that Jeannie C. Riley wrote the PTA song to make people think and look inwards into their own lives before thinking they have the moral high ground to critique the lives of others.  I believe this is sound thinking and good advice.  In this regard, Ms. Davis should examine her own life and also look at the promises she made when elected (above).  The court rulings clearly indicate that she is not keeping to the statutes of her office and the dog-and-pony-show she has catalyzed rather than thinking her way thought and avoiding is costing tax payers which strikes me as a less than fiscally responsible action.  If she wanted to do what is truly right she would resign, but I am not sure I see than happening as it is unlikely a person with a lifetime of bad decisions will suddenly break pattern.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bad Choices: Pee-wee Herman and the Oath Keepers

By Bob Ferris

Pee-wee Herman armed and dangerous.
I was recently viewing an on-line list of cult movie classics because I was trying to find a way to stream The Rocky Horror Picture Show for my wife.  It was an entertaining piece because it had clips from RHPS and others like This is Spinal Tap which brought back some fond if bizarre memories. They also featured Pee-wee’s Big Adventure  with Paul Reubens an actor who was forever marked by this character and an individual whose popularity plummeted for a while because of a personal, perhaps a little too personal, misstep.

I think about Paul’s type-casting problem and the career derailing  faux pas as I ponder the Oath Keepers and their migration to poor, little Rowan County, Kentucky to provide “protection” for Kim Davis because they feel that her Constitutional rights have been tromped all over in part because she was jailed without the benefit of a jury trial.  I connect the two because Paul’s shtick was a funny gray suit and bowtie wrapped around a goofy voice—a pretty narrow and limiting creative pallet.
Similarly with the Oath Keepers so far their most visible actions have been confined to coming to the aid of cantankerous old white men running  afoul of federal land management agencies (1,2) enabled by antiquated and zombie-like legislation such as the 1872 Mining Law or the Taylor Grazing Act or—in the case of Ferguson and Kim Davis—helping to perpetuate bigotry in one form or another.  In Cliven Bundy they seem to have hit both of their sweet spots.

Now certainly Reubens being caught in an adult theater putting the moves on his own particular “Guinea fowl” should have earned him some time in the penalty box.  But how is his embarrassing episode so much worse than saying on national TV that your enlightened strategy was to use women as shields as was done by Oath Keeper board  member Richard Mack during the Bundy standoff (see above)?

All this narrowness of focus and the false steps got me to thinking that maybe Reubens’ agent should have sought roles for his client that were a little more broadening and less bowtie-ish.  This is not to say that Reubens has not worked over the years and that his agent has not brought him some level of fame and wealth—a case in point the Spleen character in Mystery Men (below)—but he is not hanging much with the Meryl Streeps of the world in spite of having a new Pee-wee film in the can for release in 2016.  It just seemed like he had more potential.

And perhaps the Oath Keepers are really super-heroes in the making that are just misunderstood because they seem only to be helping those who are basically environmentally destructive and hateful.  But what if they started actually helping those really being trampled by the system like providing some firepower to the organic farmers under siege over Monsanto’s Round-Up ready seeds, towns in Pennsylvania denied protections from fracking, or private landowners whose property might be condemned under eminent domain so that a pipeline can be built in Oregon for a foreign company to export US natural gas to Asian?

What if the Oath Keepers took on coal exports from the Pacific Northwest as a cause and stood beside the tribes (you know the guys who were really screwed by government over-reach)? Or what about the family whose private inholdings in Nevada near Area 51 are about to be seized by the military?  These would all be socially more acceptable options and actually more consistent with the stated mission of the group which doesn’t say that Oath Keepers are only out to protect bigots and boneheads who cannot seem to file paperwork or honor legal contracts.

Unidentified Oath Keeper on roof in Ferguson with assault rifle and tactical shotgun.  
Now I understand how it starts…  You buy a Glock for home protection.  And then you see a combat holster, but your friend has one for two Glocks.  So you buy a second pistol and then one for your boot.  But you might see a home invader a few hundred yards away so you get a scoped AR-15.  But crap they may come in closer so you need a tactical shotgun with laser sights.  And then there is the knife and the black outfits.  The next thing you know you are $5,000-$10,000 lighter in the jeans and no one has mounted a full-scale assault on your house and your wife (you know the woman who keeps threatening divorce or a restraining order) is on your case because your disability, retirement or unemployment is not covering your ammunition costs.  You have become a two-legged assault vehicle with no place to go and selling it all is certainly not an option because that would mean it was a mistake to get it in the first place. So the most logical option is for you to look for or create standoffs. Whew.

So now we come back to the Kentucky standoff in the making.  This is such a great opportunity to be seen by those who cannot get the media’s attention otherwise as Mike Huckabee has so ably demonstrated.  Moreover it is “considerate” because like with Ferguson the press is already there and ready to document the Oath Keeper’s combat-readiness fashion show rather than having to travel to some rural site near a dirty old mine or overgrazed landscape.  And once again the world will see the US as primarily gun-obsessed and Christ-crazy with our own ISIS in the making.  Lovely, conservatism turned up to 11.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

National Geographic: I Blame Reagan

By Bob Ferris

When I think about this whole National Geographic tragedy with Rupert Murdoch owning 73% of the operation I cannot help but think about Ronald Reagan and how with the help of Roy Cohn he worked with Murdoch to create the media mess we now have sans the Fairness Doctrine (1,2). We got punked and I blame Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan, Rupert Murdoch and Roy Cohn in Oval Office January 18, 1983
The situation at National Geographic is an unmitigated catastrophe and the negative reaction of the people is appropriate.  How many of us have been counting on this publication for clear and accurate interpretations for decades?  It reminds of losing Walter Cronkite and that whole school of reporters from a time when we would wrap ourselves in their voices knowing that what we were hearing was the truth or very close to that elusive measure.  They are all gone now in the era of FOX News and times of unfairness and imbalance.  And we have just handed the keys of truth to the master of deceit.

How exactly do you meld this renowned and beloved culture of near anal retentiveness to detail at National Geographic with the least credible news source on the air?  The answer to that is you just don’t because the exercise seems a lot like merging a five-star restaurant with McDonalds and having an expectation that the folks in the leather seats, sipping Cristal and looking for a dining experience will not notice the wilted iceberg lettuce, thousand island dressing mutation and less than prime beef.

I will miss reading this publication because it has been my companion for more than half a century since I read those early articles about the voyages of Irving Johnson and the Yankee.  I will also miss the magazine’s balanced and informed coverage of acid rain, peak oil, climate change, ocean acidification and a dozen others complicated issues as it really is the last of the broadly-read, popular formats for these topics.  My sense is that this is exactly why it was targeted by Murdoch.

When we look back on all that we have lost in terms of civil discourse, informed debate and political leadership much of the lose can be traced back to root causes in the early 1980s.  We should be sad but we should also wake up from our slumber and do something about it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Our Trouble with Faith, Facts and Those with Believer’s Eyes

By Bob Ferris

There are a few believer eyes in this crowd.
I remember being with my father a couple of decades ago and talking with a woman at a flea market or some similar affair who was spouting nonsense about something.  After I stopped her several times when she stepped over the line of credibility, she turned to me and said that she would talk with my father but would no longer talk with me because I did not have the “eyes of a believer.” Very well then.

I think about this incidence now as I watch with horror the simpering video (above) of Kim Davis as she is released from jail—complete with a pandering, attention-seeking Mike Huckabee—and Glenn Beck’s in-car video with the rambling and ridiculous David Barton (below).  The combination of the two videos made me feel a little sick inside.  My nausea was caused in part because of the threat that Ms. Davis and others offer the country I love and that my family has fought so hard to establish and the ease with which a weak, but believing mind like Mr. Barton’s can so nimbly rewrite history and ignore facts to forward his twisted faith and personal agenda. (Note: the Ted Cruz video helped a little.)

I really grow so fatigued with the Christian Reconstructionists who keep claiming that we were founded as a Christian nation and that the Constitution is based on Biblical law.  Both claims are patently false.  These claims have been rebutted so often and so completely that one has to seriously question the ethics, cognitive abilities and sanity of those making these claims and those who support them.

How can a person rationally reconcile the fact that Mr. Barton’s 2012 book The Jefferson Lies—where he makes many of these outlandish assertions—was voted the "the least credible history book in print" by folks on the History News Network website and was basically recalled by his Christian publisher Thomas Nelson because it was not a truthful representation with his devoted following in a community that seeks truth?

How exactly in the above context can Mr. Barton be considered a leader in the evangelical Christian movement and judged by some as one of the foremost Christian revisionist historians?  As a scientist lacking the “eyes of a believer” I find it hard to fully understand what is “scholarly” about taking a rich and valuable history and revising it so that it fits how you want it to be.  Maybe it is just me but this sounds a whole lot like lying to me or at the very least poorly executed propaganda.

When I look at religion, governance and the Founding Fathers I tend look through the lens of my family’s own 395 year history on this continent and then go directly to source materials from the Founding Fathers.  My family was most assuredly Christian but came here and practiced as Puritan, Presbyterian, Quaker, Huguenot, Methodist, Dutch Reformer, Catholic, and Congregationalist.  I probably missed some in this list, but they were a diverse lot united only in the fact that they came to this continent because they were chased out or bullied by the “big-box-store” religions.  They were bruised and battered refugees who eventually made the bold move of releasing themselves from a government too tied to a single, state religion.

For my own part I am happy that the Founding Fathers—which include a number of my relatives—considered this question of religion thoroughly and artfully prior to finalizing the Constitution which in no way reflects Biblical law as God or Jesus are mentioned in the Constitution about as frequently as democratic republics are mentioned in the Bible.  (The answer to both here is that they are not mentioned at all.)

When Charles Pinckney offered up the “no religious test” proposal at the Constitutional Convention that proposal was seconded by Gouverneur Morris who was my great (times seven) uncle. Gouverneur Morris who also came up with the phrase “We the People” was a Christian and in his own way religious but he also understood that room needed to be made for others.  In fact, before this clause was included there was a debate and the delegates from North Carolina mentioned their concerns that “pagans, deists and Mahometans” might seek office.  Yet even after the debate and even though the delegates were essentially all Christians, they did not remove this clause about banning religious tests in part I suspect because they did not want to be persecuted again (1).
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” George Washington to Newport, Rhode Island, Hebrew Congregation, August 17, 1790 
When you read the above quote from George Washington in his letter to a Hebrew Congregation in 1790 you get a sense of his elation from being released from some threat and also an inkling of his pride in creating a governmental construct that eschewed bigotry and offered citizens regardless of sect or persuasion freedom to practice their beliefs.  The letters to and from him are wonderful reads that give us some insight into Washington’s thoughts and those who were protected and given opportunities through this process.
Article 11: As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”  Treaty of Tripoli reviewed and approved by President John Adams and the Senate 1797
And when this question arose seven years later during conflicts with the so-called Barbary Pirates language in our 1797 Treaty with Tripoli (above) made it clear that we might be a nation mostly of Christians but not a Christian nation.  Now I have seen arguments offered that the treaty copy in Tripoli contains no Article 11 and that the Senate might have rubber-stamped this without review.  Both claims are without credit as folks familiar with this period understand than this was the time of Congressional micro-management.

Reading through all the considerable arguments (1,2,3,4) and counter-arguments (1,2,3,4) regarding the influence of Christianity on the Constitution two things become obvious.  The first is that there were many, many influences on the Constitution from Vikings and Romans to political philosophers and the Iroquois Confederacy which were likely tempered, but certainly not driven, by Christian principles or the Bible.

The second is that Christian Reconstructionists are mad to claim ownership of this county, its founding documents and early leaders.  The irony being that the most “Christian” aspect of the Constitution is that it embraces and tolerates rather than condemns and persecutes as well as providing protection for all against any religion—even a Christian one—from taking power and destroying this fine and exemplar experiment.  We need to make sure that is always the case.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Donald Trump’s Little Cabinet of Horrors

By Bob Ferris

Sarah Palin’s recent statement that she would like to be Trump’s Secretary of Energy on CNN got me thinking.  What if Trump went with that?  Who else would he pick?  Once you start to embrace the reality of what we are dealing with it really opens up a world of possibilities.

To understand his possible choices one has to understand his campaign.  Trump is a candidate who panders rather than leads from any particular vision or moral high ground.  A perfect example of this was the audible “white power” comment at one of his rallies in the South.  Rather than stop at that juncture or clarify later his position vis a vis people of color he just passed the moment by leaving those who are attracted to this bigoted banner to embrace his campaign while being able to plausibly deny the sentiment written off as "passion" to those who were offended.

Donald Trump and Ann Coulter
In going through this important thought exercise I found myself starting with the disastrous such as Palin at Energy, Tom Cotton leading the State Department or Ken Ivory (1,2,3) from Utah being put in charge of anything dealing with federal public lands.  In this arena I would also put ideas like attorney and author Ann Coulter as Attorney General, someone like Kathy Jones of Seneca Jones in Oregon being put in charge of the US Forest Service or fiscal genius Sam Brownback leaving Kansas and heading up Treasury (1,2,3).  Here too I would add former Senator and Tea Bag hero Jim DeMint (now at The Heritage Foundation) being dropped in anywhere near the United Nations (1,2,3). All of these are very bad ideas, but all of these folks are deeply involved in the Republican machine and therefore swimming in the “pool.”

Donald Trump and Sylvester Stallone
But then the above undertaking kicks quickly into the ironic and silly.  How about Ted Nugent as director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service or Cliven Bundy (if he were to acknowledge there is a federal government) being appointed Director of the Bureau of Land Management?  How about Sylvester Stallone as Secretary of Defense or Chuck Norris as head of Homeland Security—both of these vocal Republicans have hung out with “the Donald” at some point.

Donald Trump and Chuck Norris
And then we descend into the truly silly with Michelle Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting as Secretary of Labor and Tim Tebow (1,2,3) as United States Trade Representative—because the former certainly knows about labor and the later trades.  Or Jim Bakker who is fully rehabilitated from his prison stay and currently selling "Times of Trouble" food as a likely candidate for Commerce as he appears to be able to create products out of nothing which could be a useful skill in this position.

At some point I just start to spin out of control with Jeff Foxworthy at Education, Ted Cruz supporter and former Marine R. Lee Ermey at Veterans’ Affairs, or any member of the Walton family (Walmart) at the Small Business Administration because it is hard to argue that there is any one family in the US that has done more to change the face of small businesses across the nation.
Next Energy Secretary and Director of Fish and Wildlife Service?
I am sorry if I have offended anyone with this exercise, but it is hard for me to take any of this at all seriously as the whole situation is so absurd and artificial.  Yes Trump is entertaining, but the media is failing in its duty by giving him so much more oxygen than his ideas or character deserve.  Is it really any great mystery that the man who gets most of the press is leading in the polls?
I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form.  It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” Reverend Billy Graham Parade Magazine February 1, 1981
What’s more as we are dealing with massive corrections on Wall Street (1,2,3), a series of devastating natural catastrophes made worse by climate change (1,2,3), and gun violence (1,2,3) that has become epidemic we have at least two candidates jumping to the defense of an insignificant woman who believes that she can expiate her past sins through practicing bigotry in direct and absolute violation of her oath of office. These two candidates and others who might jump onto this silly dogcart of an issue seem bent on turning this nation into a Theocracy which should offend all who understand the founding principles of this great nation.

So let this notion of a Trump cabinet and the associated horrors wash around in your minds for a bit and then realize that it might be more rational than what we would get from those who view Ms. Davis as a heroine and act more like mullahs than men of reason.  Then get to work, because if the media fails us we have to become our own media and if our leaders fail to lead we have to find those with the character and will to do so or this great experiment dies.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

High Noon in the Climate Denier’s Camp (and It is Not Pretty)

By Bob Ferris

So is the sheriff actually coming to town?
I am continually amazed by folks so willing to expound or write on topics in the absence of credentials and with little or no regard for truth or balance.  My amazement here is only surpassed by the apparent capacity of a certain sector of the US public to absorb these stinking piles of propaganda like fudgesicles on a steamy day.  The most recent example of this is a Breitbart piece “exposing” the million-dollar “secret” anti-fossil fuel conspiracy currently at play.

And are these really the bad guys?
Holy crap we have billionaires, the White House and front groups involved in a conspiracy to educate the public about the dangers of climate change and engaging governors in forwarding policies that will bring us cleaner air and a more hopeful future.  Heck, why would we want all that when we could have a hotter and more polluted future brought to us by fossil fuel industry shills who actually are engaged in a real conspiracy funded by hundreds of millions?   And why in a year with escalating wildfires, three category 4 hurricanes in the eastern Pacific, the hottest month ever recorded, and Dengue fever spreading  with more to come (1,2,3) would anyone really want to do anything about climate change?  Lands sake, why don’t these conspirators just mind their own business?

Okay enough facetiousness.  This piece in Breitbart is expected as those involved in the real scheme to misinform and deceive folks about climate change and fossil fuels (1,2,3) likely thought that a response was needed to all the documentation of their own massive cabal.  What is surprising is that this response is amazingly weak, easily refuted and transparently deceptive.

The above from here.
Let’s start with the messenger Marita Noon (AKA Marita Littauer) a fossil fuel advocate and Christian author.  It is really no secret that Ms. Noon head of Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy and also the associated Energy Makes America Great works on behalf of New Mexico natural gas interests.  This is reinforced by her repeated public statements about fracking most notably on the Daily Show where she was parodied out of her socks (see clip here).  I suspect that she does not truly understand the satirical nature of this type of programming because when she was interviewed later by former governor and retired professional wrestler Jesse Ventura (see clip below) she pointed to the Daily Show much like one would point to an achievement rather than an instance when she was held up to public ridicule.

Her attempts in the Ventura interview to characterize fracking as a 100-year old improving technology much like cell phones, dismissing the health risks of polluted water systems because she knew someone in some community where fracking took place that suffered no ill effects, and trying to compare fracking-catalyzed earthquakes with big trucks or trains all seem reminiscent of the Breitbart piece arguments.  They earned her eye rolls from a frustrated Ventura in the interview and should receive even a stronger response for this written piece.  This Breitbart piece and her arguments are a little like a teenager caught chucking an M-80 into a mailbox and trying to convince angry parents that the real danger is the child in the neighborhood with a cap pistol.

In a real sense the bit about fracking being a century-old process getting better is industry tripe that ignores both the monumentally greater frequency of fracking during this natural gas boom that started in 2003 and the fact that water is now part of the process where before oil, gasoline or other materials were used. And when I say water I mean millions of gallons per well (see above graphic).

The anecdotal bit about the best friend thriving in fracking country is telling on a lot of different levels.  This type of unqualified statement being offered up as “proof” of safety by anyone let alone the head of an organization claiming to be qualified to comment on fracking is ludicrous.  Pollution plumes involving a myriad of complex compounds travelling in three dimensions through many different substrates and potentially poisoning people through short and long-term exposure needs to be addressed in terms of test wells, water samples and presented symptoms not via some lame “I have a friend” defense.  Why would anyone think that sufficient?  Perhaps Ms. Noon who is certainly a devout Christian with no apparent post-secondary education believes that faith and proof are the same?  But while I respect her right to embrace the Bible as a guiding document, I am hard-pressed to remember the chapters and verses in that tome that dealt specifically with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, bio-accumulation, mutagens and oncology.  Was that Old Testament or New?  (I know, again with the facetiousness.)

The fracking boom hit in 2003 and has accelerated ever since (see here for history)
And then there is the comparison of earthquakes to truck and train traffic.  Where do I start with this? Fracking has been tied to earthquakes (1,2,3) and those of us who are Seahawk fans and remember the Beast-Quake set off by running-back Marshawn Lynch know that surface actions can be read by seismographs and measured on the Richter Scale they only have to be large enough (Go Hawks).
I do not come from an energy, science, or public policy background. I’ve spent my life in speaking and writing either as a communicator or a trainer of communicators. When circumstances in my personal life mandated that I get a real job, I never imagined that I could be so enthusiastic about something not of my own making.” Marita Noon 2011 in Master Resource a Free Market Energy blog 
The above statement by Ms. Noon explains much as to why her responses to questions are often technically spongy, unerringly consistent with a political ideology, and bereft of any thought of future consequence for her positions.   It also explains why she is frequently flat wrong like with her confusing comment about the lack of association between fracking and methane release in the Ventura piece (1,2,3) and when the science writer for the normally supportive Albuquerque paper had to correct her claims about wind power in an opinion piece (1,2).  As someone who has hired dozens and dozens of employees to work in the non-profit sector (working on energy or other technical issues) my goal was always to try and maximize the depth and breadth of my employees’ relevant skills sets in the hope that would help us in our quest to find the best solutions and most defensible positions.  So I am confused by the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy's decision to do something different in their hire of an unqualified Ms. Noon...unless they got exactly what they wanted.

A look at three sources for climate denial groups and how the mix has changed over time.
Now on to the materials presented by Ms. Noon in the Breitbart piece.  There is a concept in law known as "fruit of the poisonous tree.”  This deals with evidence in a criminal case collected illegally that is tainted by the manner in which it was gathered (e.g., without warrant or probable cause).  That evidence cannot be used in court because of this taint.  It is a strong and time-tested legal concept.

In this Climate Denial situation substantial proof has been offered that fossil fuel interests and conservative donors have invested heavily in anti-climate change, pro-fossil fuel activists and organizations such as the Heartland Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), Americans for Prosperity, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute and many others (1,2,3).  These moneyed interests and their millions have essentially created a "poisonous tree" hung with misinformation and deception. Ms. Noon who has connections with the Heartland Institute , CFACT, and Environment & Energy Legal Institute (nee American Tradition Institute) among others is not only part of this poisoned tree, she uses its "fruit" almost exclusively as her source of information. Essentially she offers up materials generated by tainted sources as proof that it is others who are tainted.
"In 2011, documents allegedly found in a stolen car and then discovered in a Colorado meth house revealed the inner workings of WTP/ATC, including possible illegal coordination with Republican candidates."  From Wikipedia entry on Western Tradition Partnership (see also here for article in the Atlantic)
In looking at my above claim about Ms. Noon’s sources let’s spend a little time with the Environment & Energy Legal Institute (E&E Legal) which was the source of the report mentioned and mooned over by Ms. Noon.  Sounds legitimate and prestigious.  Then you scratch the surface a little and find that E&E Legal used to be known as the American Tradition Institute which was also associated with the American Tradition Partnership, Western Tradition Institute and Western Tradition Partnership.  To say they were scandal ridden is an understatement.

Above from Media Matters
American Tradition Institute is also notorious for the Michael Mann e-mail lawsuit where the ethics of ATI’s David Schnare were called into question.  Christopher Horner who was recently criticized for being too funded by and too close to the coal industry is also associated with ATI as are John Droz , Stephen Milloy  and Joe Bastardi.
"I’ve read the entire report—which had me holding my breath as if I were reading a spy thriller—and reviewed the emails."  Marita Noon in Breitbart piece.
In short, Ms. Noon’s silver bullet to take attention away from her crowd’s well-documented links to industry and conservative donors by casting aspersions on those working to find solution pathways to dealing with climate change’s immense challenges is a report written by folks associated with a group that is neck-deep in the world of the fossil fuel industry and conservative donors.  I am not holding my breath as I read her piece, but I am holding my nose.

So what about all this about former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.  My sense is that he is a man of principle trying to keep too many people happy who got caught in a media buzz saw that made any practical solution impossible.  Were mistakes made?  Probably.  Were they as gruesome as they are being portrayed?  Probably not.  Here I will have to admit that my lens is colored some by being married to a woman with a graduate degree from Princeton who has given up much and has frequently had to live in my professional shadow.  Relationships between two people with ambitions and skills particularly when their universes overlap is a very, very delicate dance in which toes are regularly stepped upon.

As to Noon’s other claims about Dan Carol and Tom Steyer they just seem kind of weird and na├»ve.  I worked on a project (see Amber Waves of Gain) that included Dan about 15 years ago and he was very good.  My sense is that Ms. Noon would not be against people with skills being reasonably paid for their work, but it seems so in her comments.  She also talks about aides and political advisers in a negative manner which seems strange as many of the folks she works with and she calls colleagues participate in these activities.

Moreover, Tom Steyer has been anything but secretive in his actions starting with his funding—along with his wife Kat Taylor —of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford as well as his related political actions on climate (1,2,3). This is in addition to Tom and Kat helping to found Beneficial State Bank which is very much worth checking out . Here too I will disclosure that I met Kat Taylor when looking for financing for a non-profit that I once ran in 2011 and I used to socialize occasionally with Dan Reicher executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and his family while we were all living in Vermont.
“Oh, how I wish we were that well coordinated and funded. If we were, I would have written this column last week when the E&E Legal report was released. Instead of receiving the information from the source, a New York City journalist forwarded it to me.” Marita Noon in Breitbart piece.
I will begin to close here with the above whiny quote which could indicate a number of things—none of them good for Ms. Noon.  Either she was not paying attention or the movement which is actually well-funded in general is passing her by.   Greenwire clearly got a press release from E&E Legal and so did the New York City journalist she mentioned.  E&E Legal also tweeted about the report on the day of the release.  I also find it odd given the number of times that Ms. Noon has dropped his name and cheer-leaded his positions (1,2,3,4,5 ) that the primary author of this report about secret e-mails and cloak-and-dagger mayhem the aforementioned Christopher Horner would not have sent Ms. Noon a hot-off-the-presses copy of his work.  Go figure.

Attacks or rebuttals work best when they are written by those with relevant credentials, demonstrated credibility and appropriate distance from the controversy.  Ms. Noon as she has pointed out by her actions and words possesses none of these characteristics.